Through the Looking Glass at Left Bank
Yes, we’re still in Zamalek for the time being, but it’ll be worth your while. At the northern tip of the island where Mohamed Mazhar ends and Abou El Feda begins sit two restaurants perfectly suited for whiling away a balmy fall/spring afternoon or weekend evening. Both places offer a funky, chic vibe that has proven successful at drawing in Cairo’s elite, hipster and yuppie crowds in droves.
The more established of the two is Sequoia, a decadent, posh-lite affair that’s located right on the Nile. A large wooden deck juts out over murky green water as plush white couches are cannily arranged underneath large linen tents that billow lazily overhead. In the hot summer months there are standing fans to circulate air; however, Sequoia is much more enjoyable in the October – April period when the heat has dropped, a slight chill is in the air and you can wear jeans and a light sweater as you relax into your Nile-side seat. If you look eastward the Nile Towers rise up into the night, as the Conrad hotel and World Trade Center complete the Corniche skyline. To the west is Imbaba and its gift of brightlightsdeepbassmusicthumpingfireworks (read: noise…especially at night); while to the north the trains to Alexandria rumble across the bridge that connects Imbaba and Shobra with an airy whistle that intermittently pierces the air.
Sequoia is a nice place to spend an evening as they have a wide range of Intolerant-friendly options and they offer modestly good food and consistently agreeable service. They have shisha for those who like to indulge and their menu consists of mezze, grilled meat/fish, pasta, pizzas, sweet endings and also sushi options if you’re hankering for raw fish. They serve fresh juices, quality coffees and alcohol, which is welcome if you’re in need of a cold beer or glass of wine after a long day of work, sightseeing or just managing Cairo’s traffic. The only drawback with Sequoia is the price tag since they have a cover charge after 18:00 and it’s about 150LE (weekends)/125LE (weekdays) at the moment. This means you have to eat/drink 150LE (roughly 25 USD) worth, which isn’t always possible or is what you’re after. In addition, premium alcohol (non-Egyptian beer and wine) is marked up exponentially, which is disappointing if you want to branch out and get away from local favourites like Omar Khayyam and Aida. At the end of the day you’re paying for the view and the company really. Sequoia is a place where you go to see and be seen.
Little brother Left Bank, on the other hand, balances out the posh and hip ambiance of Sequoia and is located right next door. Though the owner of both establishments is the same, Left Bank has a markedly different vibe as west-coast boho permeates the place. Books and magazines (all for purchase) line several of the walls and long communal tables offset the small, square wooden ones that seat 2-6 people at a time. The most impressive part of Left Bank is the interior, which mimics the physical space of downtown Cairo with “a rock-tiled floor, similar to the one covering the Borsa area downtown, that maps out downtown Cairo in full detail down to every roundabout and alley. The buildings are represented by the surrounding bookcases starting with the infamous Mugamma building in Tahrir, and ending with a uniquely designed book case taking the outline of the Cairo Tower.” [From Egypt Today – see above link]
With a broad, open space, wall made out of windows and a retractable-roof ceiling, Left Bank oozes natural light and provides a great east-looking view of the Nile. While the food (French-fusion) has room for improvement in terms of taste and presentation (it’s a bit tricky to discern what has dairy and/or gluten since it seems a fair bit of pre-made sauces/dressings/condiments are used) the staff are nice enough and will do their best to help you out if you are starving and looking for something allergen-free. One nice dish is their gazpacho, a slightly watery cold soup with chunky morsels of tomato and cucumber that are both spicy and sweet to the taste. It’s a big enough serving that easily makes it a great and light mid-afternoon lunch.
Food aside, Left Bank is a go-to place for kicking-back with friends, musing over your latest copy of Jonathan Franzen‘s new novel or letting the hours slide by as you surf through the informationsuperhighway on your Macbook Air or second generation tablet. It’s also a fantastic place to grab a fresh juice (the watermelon, mango and lemon with mint are refreshing) as they make them on the spot and will add as much, or as little, sugar as you like. Their coffee and tea drinks -both hot and chilled – are equally good and their desserts (I’m told) – chocolate truffle, eclair, tiramisu, and mille-feuille – are worth the extra couple of grams that may find their way to your midsection/thighs. Unfortunately, there’s nothing suitable for Intolerants at the bakery, but when friends/acquaintances make a move for something sweet to bridge the gap between lunch and dinner, I order another fresh juice or herbal tea and just enjoy.
Every. Single. Drop.